Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Outdoor Stadium Hazardous Weather Conundrum

Lane Stadium, Virginia Tech, 27 August 2000.  Photo: Eric Brady,
The Roanoke Times
Lightning killed a spectator this weekend following the rain-shorened Sprint Cup Race and Pocono Speedway.  An article wondering if NASCAR should have done more to protect spectators appeared in Monday's USA Today.  

A large outdoor crowd and severe or hazardous weather is a bad combination.  Between the false confidence of "safety in numbers" and the desire not to leave a sporting or entertainment event that is exciting and cost good money, it's difficult to take the appropriate action in a timely manner when weather threatens.  I remember attending a concert at Deer Valley several years ago when there was lightning all around.  It was clearly a situation that demanded that the show be halted and spectators be told to head to their cars, but the show went on, fortunately without incident.  We stayed until the end, which was not a smart move.  

Some of the issues at play are summarized in Storms and Stadiums, an article by Bob Hanson that appeared in the winter 2005–06 UCAR quarterly.  While some large stadiums have prepared action plans for severe and hazardous weather, I suspect the majority of smaller stadiums have not.  Further, while competitors and entertainers can usually find suitable shelter quickly, a large outdoor crowd needs time to evacuate. 

As a spectator, it is probably best to assume that you will not be given a clear and timely alert if severe or hazardous weather approaches and to consider taking appropriate individual action if warranted.  The challenge is overcoming that desire to remain in an exposed area when the game plays on and thousands of others are staying put.  

1 comment:

  1. As a Virginia Tech Alumni, the picture above is a true testament to the electricity in Lane Stadium during a night game. Also, there is an interesting backstory to this picture. This particular picture was taken in 2000 right before kickoff vs the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Members of the ESPN network were in town for the game, and earlier in the day one member, Lee Corso, was bold enough to predict a Hokie loss @ home @ night (something that seldom if ever happens in Lane Stadium). Unfortunately, Lee Corso's car was struck by a bolt of lightning sometime around kickoff, and the game ended up being cancelled. Leading Lee Corso to claim that "God is a Hokie".